The Advice You Need if You're Not Sure Which Jobs You Should Apply To

When you were a kid, were you told that you could grow up to be anything?

Well, that person was a liar. Let me explain.

The truth is, you can grow up to be a finite number of things—and if you don’t focus and dive deep into those areas, you will never find the success you’re looking for.

This, That, or the Other Thing?

The number one issue I see when working with my coaching clients isn’t a lack of opportunity, but rather an inability to focus long enough in order to find the “right” opportunity.

We’re so scattered in our approach to finding jobs that we either take the first thing that comes our way, or we throw darts blindly, hoping we hit the target.

Let’s talk about Sue.

Sue is a skilled writer. She was offered a good job and jumped at the opportunity. But, although the job was great on paper, the culture didn’t align with her ambitious work-ethic.

She wanted to move on, but was paralyzed by the number of options available to her.

Should she…

  1. Stay and make the best of it?
  2. Quit and find a better fit somewhere else?
  3. Quit and freelance full-time?
  4. Stay and freelance on the side?

To complicate this even further, each above option was followed by a slew of sub-options. If she were to quit and find another job…

  1. What industry should she work in?
  2. What job title should she take?
  3. How much will she earn?

The list goes on!

Toothbrush Anxiety

We see this everywhere in our lives.

I’ve been using the same toothbrush for about four months now, and it’s starting to gross me out. I need a new toothbrush.

When I realized this, I went online to look for brushes and was immediately overcome with anxiety.

There are so many different options to choose from. How am I going to decide which one to buy?

  • Electric or manual?
  • Soft or hard-bristled?
  • Organic or futuristic?
  • Blue or green?

This is a big decision. I have to use this brush to keep my pearly whites shining for another four months. But, with so many choices, I’m paralyzed.

I have to find a way to narrow my options.

More Is Less

The sad fact is that the more options we have, the tougher it is to make a decision.

This is an idea in psychology known as “The Paradox of Choice,” and when it comes to choosing a career path, it’s the key reason we get stuck in our search.

So, when Sue came to me, we focused on eliminating her choices. We asked “yes” or “no” questions quickly and deleted options as soon as we felt a hesitation in the answer.

  1. Was she in a place financially to quit?
  2. Does she prefer working alone, or within a company structure?
  3. Does she prefer working in this industry, or that industry?

It’s tough, and initially felt scary to take so many options off the table. But, we managed to whittle down her options to the point where she could focus and move forward.

Going Deep, Not Wide

Eliminating options also helps us focus on the nuances between similar options, rather than getting overwhelmed by the differences between high-level categories.

Let’s go back to the toothbrush example. If I know I want a manual brush and not an electric one, I’ve just eliminated an entire category of potential stress and can ignore every toothbrush with a current running through it.

Think about it: What’s easier to compare?

Or:

The GUM Summit Plus Compact 505 Soft Toothbrush versus the Bamboo Charcoal Infused Toothbrush are clearly easier to compare because they’re similar. All I have to choose between is plastic versus wood, and charcoal versus regular.

But, how can I compare the GUM brush to the Water Flosser? They might as well be from different planets!

Using This in Your Job Search

Now that we’ve established that eliminating choices improves your job search, what are the filters you can apply?

  • Location
  • Industry
  • Job Title
  • Company
  • Salary
  • Experience

The scary thing about going deep, not wide, is the lingering doubt of, “What if I chose the wrong filter?”

Well, if it helps at all, this will often resolve itself quickly when you start networking, learning about different industries, and applying and interviewing for the jobs you’ve filtered into your list.

In my own search, I started with two job titles and two industries.

  1. Content marketing roles at marketing companies
  2. Career counseling roles at educational institutions

As soon as I started interviewing, about two weeks and four interviews in, I realized that I was far more excited and interested in the career counseling roles and eliminated number one from the list.

My search was more focused, and I was no longer playing ping-pong between two competing options.

Now, all I have to worry about is company culture, location, and compensation.

Knowing that elimination will improve your job search, what are you going to take off the table? Let me know on Twitter @martinmcgovern!

This article was originally published on Career Dogs. It has been republished here with permission.

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About Richard Moy

Richard Moy
Richard Moy is a Content Marketing Writer at Stack Overflow. He has spent the majority of his career in talent management, including a stint as a full-cycle recruiter and hiring manager. In addition to the career advice he contributes to The Muse, he also writes test prep and higher education marketing content for The Economist. Say hi on Twitter @rich_moy.

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